It’s one of those inexplicable yet delicious occurrences that set the digerati buzzing (cf. Techmeme, Megite). Microsoft lawyer Thomas Rubin, apparently having nothing better to do, decided to publicly slap Google over Google Book Search while simultaneously touting Microsoft’s competitive endeavor, Windows Live Search Books.
Background: Both Google and Microsoft are scanning and indexing printed books for the Web. Both include out of copyright works and both also include copyrighted works where they have reached agreement with the publishers and either now share ad revenue with the publisher or provide purchase links (Google) or plan to in the future (Microsoft). Google, however, also provides what they feel to be “fair use” excerpts of copyrighted works even if they have not reached an agreement with the copyright holder. This has given rise to lawsuits from aggrieved publishers which are still in the courts.
Microsoft is taking aim at Google Inc.’s rival book-scanning project, saying the search company “systematically violates copyright.”
In prepared remarks he is scheduled to deliver Tuesday to a publishing industry group, a Microsoft Corp. lawyer also said Google is cutting into the profits of authors and publishers.
“Companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue,” wrote Thomas C. Rubin, an associate general counsel at Microsoft, in the speech he planned to give at the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers in New York.
Sounds like a description that could be applied to all Web search providers, or at least the successful ones. As Matthew Ingram notes, “This is almost a word-for-word transcription of the argument that gets trotted out by everyone from the World Newspaper Association to the Belgian agency Copiepresse…” What can Mr. Rubin be thinking?
“But Google’s track record of protecting copyrights in other parts of its business is weak at best,” wrote Rubin. “Anyone who visits YouTube, which Google purchased last year, will immediately recognize that it follows a similar cavalier approach to copyright.”
I guess we now know what really rankles, although Mr. Rubin apparently doesn’t spend much time at MSN Soapbox which has a similar problem.
The full text of Rubin’s remarks yields more of the same whining boosterism for Microsoft as the protector of copyright holders, but the real question is what purpose is served by this foolishness? Microsoft’s Don Dodge asks the same question on his personal blog and concludes it is all a lame attempt at generating good public relations. That’s about as favorable an interpretation as I can put on it too.